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FOR SAFETY'S SAKEWinter Driving: How Safe Are You?

OK, it’s snowing with icy conditions. You get an assignment that on a normal day is about a 30-minute drive away. The newsroom monitors tell you the other six stations in the market have storm and driving condition warnings. Your own weather guy is on air saying, “Stay home, don’t go out if you don’t have to.” Scanners are screaming accidents, street closures, cars skidding off the road.

Your job is to get out there and show how dangerous it is outside or cover the other thousand stories in your market. It’s a great public service.

But are you prepared to drive in this weather? How? Are you a young but experienced employee from the Sun Belt who has never even seen snow, let alone icy roads?

Even if you are very experienced in such conditions, do you remember the lessons learned during last winter’s driving experiences? How? Has there been a news meeting to deal with rough-weather driving where the “lessons” were rehashed?

Does your van have extra supplies for dealing with winter conditions? Sand, scrapers, work gloves, blankets, first aid equipment, extra tie-downs, ropes, etc? Do you have all-season radials or snow tires?

When your own station is giving out warnings to stay indoors and keep off the roads, and it’s your job to get to work just so you can get out there and inform people about what’s going on, you need the right tools: education and preparation. Here’s one hint: Road salt becomes ineffective at 19 degrees. At that temperature or below, ice rules.

Stately Advice

It’s a good idea to have the same winter supplies you have in your van in your personal vehicle as well. After all, most people have to drive to work, and anyone on the evening shift knows that there aren’t many people out there after the 10 or 11 p.m. news is finished.

Here’s some advice from those who know about driving in snowy weather—the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles:

*Never combine radial and non-radial tires on the same vehicle.
*If you must drive, clear the ice and snow from your vehicle, all windows, and windshield wipers. Be sure the windshield washer reservoir is adequately filled with a freeze-resistant cleaning solution.
*Drive slowly. Even if your vehicle has good traction in ice and snow, other drivers will be traveling cautiously. Don’t disrupt the flow of traffic by driving faster than everyone else.

Give Me A Break

Despite a popular misconception, the best approach to recovering from a skid is the same for both front- and rear-wheel drive vehicles. If your rear wheels start to skid, turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right. If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.

If your car has anti-lock brakes, keep your foot on the pedal. If not, pump the pedal gently, pumping more rapidly as your car slows down. Braking hard with non-anti-lock brakes will make the skid worse. If your front wheels start to skid, take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately. As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle, and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in drive or release the clutch and accelerate gently.

To avoid skids, brake carefully and gently on snow or ice. “Squeeze” your brakes in slow, steady strokes. Allow the wheels to keep rolling. If they start to lock up, ease off the brake pedal. As you slow down, you may also want to shift into a lower gear. When sleet, freezing rain, or snow starts to fall, remember that bridges, ramps, and overpasses are likely to freeze first. Also, be aware that slippery spots may still remain after road crews have cleared the highways.

The pursuit of news coverage does not justify an accident, and most company policies and practices back that up. An accident might make the long, slow winter seem even more prolonged.

Mark Bell publishes the ENG Safety Newsletter. He can be reached at: